Baxter's Blog


Posted in Gallery by misterroadtripper on October 8, 2010

I saw a show on television the other night about photographer Chris Rainier, and it recalled our story by Tim Coleman, several years back. Here’s a taste of the article and some 0f Rainier’s superb images.


Chris Rainier has seen bare flesh etched by the crudest of implements: old nails, sharpened bamboo sticks, barracuda teeth. The ink might be nothing more than sugar cane juice mixed with campfire soot. The important part is the meaning behind the marks. “Blank skin,” says Rainier, “is merely a canvas for a story.”

Rainier is widely considered as one of the best documentary photographers working today. His photographs have been published in many of the world’s leading magazines including Time, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Life, The New York Times, Smithsonian and both the French and German editions of Geo.


Dyak Tattoos © Chris Rainier


Much of his technical expertise was gained when he worked between 1980 and 1985as Ansel Adams’ last assistant. Adams is universally thought to be one of the world’s greatest landscape photographers and a technical genius. His greatest innovation was developing the Zone System. Adopted widely by professionals, it is a sophisticated method used to calculate the necessary exposure for producing a full range of tonal values in the negative. Unlike many photographers who shoot large quantities of film to get one good picture, Adams preferred to wait until conditions were perfect and then expose a few large format negatives. Part of his approach was to pre-visualize the image long before shooting. A technique also adopted by Rainier. “I like to scout out locations beforehand. Once I’ve found the right place, I can figure out how to fit the subject into the background so that it works as a complete composition,” he explains. “I am trying to create an image that is a landscape, whether it’s urban or natural. I want the environment to speak volumes about who that person is and why they have got that particular body decoration.”

Adams also taught Rainier the importance of having a clear focus when undertaking a photographic project. “One of Ansel’s favorite sayings was, ‘There’s nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy concept.” Taking his teacher’s edict to heart, Rainier set out to explore the connection between spirituality and tattooing. “I think the roots of religion and spirituality lie in the canvas of the body,”  he states. “Most tribal cultures consider the skin as a sacred canvas. Many of these cultures believe that you are not complete until you have marked your body and undergone some sort of painful initiation. I know that many people today in the West don’t see getting tattooed as a sacred ritual, but in the many conversations I’ve had with people while doing this book, I found frequently that, at some level, people are trying to make a connection with something larger than themselves. In that fundamental sense there is a common thread that connects contemporary tattooing back to the dawn of civilization.” Note: Click images to enlarge.

Maori Facial Moko © Chris Rainier

Mentawai Tribesmen © Chris Rainier







Henna-stained Hands, Morocco © Chris Rainier



Facial Scarring © Chris Rainier



Buddhist Religious Symbols © Chris Rainier



Tattoo Artists, San Francisco © Chris Rainier


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